I had some very basic plans for this birth. I had just told my cousin a few days before that my biggest hope for this birth was that there would be no story. It would be so boring, there would be nothing to tell, other than the huge deal of getting a new soul in the universe and member of our family and all. But the birth itself would be uneventful. I was planning to birth in the hospital for the first time. My first child was a planned homebirth that ended in a very late transfer to the hospital for meconium staining and involved me pushing in the car while my husband drove down the wrong side of the street in West Philly with my midwife hollering at cars to get out of the way in the passenger seat. My second child was born at home, in the water, and all was well until she decided she wasn’t interested in breathing. She took five minutes of rubbing down, oxygen, and the midwife breathing into her mouth before she came around. So this time I put a lot of time and energy into choosing the most low-stress, safe, non-dramatic way for this birth to go down. I chose a hospital, and a midwifery practice that supported all my homebirthy tendencies, including waterbirth. We were going to go to the hospital well into labor but not late enough to have the baby in traffic on Highway 26, I had an experienced doula to help me navigate hospital policies, baby was going to stay with me, and we would go home in 24 hours with hardly a story to tell.
Well. Best laid plans and all that.
As I approached my due date, I was sure I was going to go way over. I had the easiest pregnancy yet, with none of the complaints I had with my first two, and didn’t feel at all like I was about to give birth any time soon. My only problem with this is that I was due July 30th, and as Orthodox Christians we fast from meat and dairy for the first two weeks of August in preparation for the Feast of the Dormition on August 15th. I already had one baby in the fast (which means fasting birthdays for the rest of his life), and didn’t really want to plan two fasting birthday parties every year. Plus, it’s a pain for kids to share birthdays within days of one another, and there was a chance this baby could be born on James’ birthday or even leapfrog over it.
I spent Monday the 29th still sure baby wasn’t going to come for quite a while. But around dinner time I noticed that my Braxton Hicks were getting increasingly strong and rather crampy. I knew that many women have contractions like that for weeks, so I was still not thinking much of it. I did text my doula and my friend Katherine who would come to watch our kids about it, just in case. On and off that night I also gathered some of the unpacked stuff for our hospital bags and sent Paul to the grocery store for a few staples for the kids.
We ate dinner, took a walk and put the kids to bed like usual. Sometime over the next few hours, the contractions got stronger. I timed them a few times, and they started out about 17 minutes apart. I stayed in bed and tried to sleep in between. Eventually they were 7-8 minutes apart and definitely getting hard to work through, so I called the hospital to make sure they weren’t out of labor rooms (a problem the last few weeks) and to just let them know what was going on. The midwife on call said I didn’t need to be in any hurry, but could come in whenever I wanted. That was at 2:50 am.
I told Paul we should get ready to go, but we didn’t want to call the doula or Katherine yet, as I still didn’t know how long it would be before contractions were close enough to go to the hospital. My homebirth midwives had told me to call when they were four minutes apart, the hospital midwives say to come in at five. I know from experience not to judge based on regular timing, since they didn’t become regular with either of my previous babies, but thought surely 7-8 minutes apart was too soon. So Paul got things packed up in the car, and I puttered around, stopping in my tracks every time a contraction hit. They were definitely getting harder and harder to manage.
The timing of all this seems very fuzzy to me, but we reconstructed the times from our phone records. Very soon, I was standing at the counter between the kitchen and the dining room, where my packing list was, and the contractions were hard enough and close enough together that I didn’t want to move from that spot. Then my water broke all over the floor. Paul grabbed a bunch of towels and I made it through a few more contractions. By then I knew we had to leave quick, and Paul called the doula and Katherine at 3:26 and 3:28 am and said to come. At some point he went to put his shoes on so we could go. And then, in about two minutes I went from saying, “I think we need to tell the doula to meet us there,” as I didn’t think we could wait any longer, to, “I think we need to go to St. Vincent’s,” (which is the closest hospital to us), to, “Honey, I think you should call the EMTs.” Our phone records show that we called 911 at 3:30 am.
Paul said he thought about arguing with me, thinking that surely we could make it to OHSU like we planned, where they were ready and waiting for us. When I said we needed to call the EMTs, he looked at me like I was a little crazy, and said, “Wait, you mean 911?!” Luckily, he went ahead and did it, because I was bearing down by that point. We know now that if we had tried to get in the car, we wouldn’t have even made it as far as the highway. He told the 911 operator his wife was having a baby and to send assistance. He put her on speakerphone and she started giving directions. I could already reach down and feel the baby’s head crowning. I was on my hands and knees, luckily with towels under me from when my water broke. Paul had unlocked and opened the front door and my friend Katherine walked in as the operator was giving instructions, and she picked up the phone and held it up so Paul could hear. The operator told him to put his hand on the baby’s head and push back a little as it came out.
The baby came out very fast, fishtailing out in a gush. Paul kept hold of her and I flipped over and brought her to my chest. I checked her mouth and nose to make sure they were clear and we wiped her down to stimulate her breathing. My one fear in her coming unassisted was that Miriam did not breath after she was born, and I wanted this one to hurry up and breathe. Luckily, she seemed responsive immediately, with her eyes opened, and she let our one little cry and started pinking up, first her face, then her chest and torso. Our guess is that Sophia was born at 3:34 am, 44 minutes after I called the hospital and was told not to hurry, and less than fifteen minutes after my water broke.
Within a couple of minutes the EMTs and a few firemen walked in. The operator congratulated us and hung up, and Katherine took a few pictures with Paul’s phone. The EMTs were really awesome. They never acted like it was an emergency, did their best to keep Sophia with me all the time, and just gently checked her out. They asked if it was a boy or a girl, and we had no idea. Eventually we got around to checking and it was a girl! We told them her name was Sophia. We got her wrapped in a clean towel and asked for a hat and someone got one out of my room. They wheeled us out of the house and into the ambulance. Paul rode in front with the driver, and the younger EMT stayed in back with me. The one with me said it was his first call to a birth – he seemed pretty excited and eager to make sure we were ok. He encouraged me to let the baby nurse all the way to the hospital to control any bleeding, and the midwives told me later they thought the EMTs were really cute with how proud they were that the baby was already breastfeeding. The driver told Paul that he and his wife had a baby at home last year, on purpose, which explains how calm he was about everything.
The drive to the hospital was uneventful, with no traffic on the road at 4 am. We drove without lights or anything and it seemed calm and peaceful driving down the highway in the middle of the night. They brought me to a labor room, where my birth pool was set up and waiting for me – no need for it this time! They also kept Sophia with me at all times. Soon my doula arrived and was very helpful, getting us drinks, food, more warm blankets, and helping me through birthing the placenta and a small repair. We spent an hour or so in the labor room, and Sophia was eventually checked out and weighed – eight pounds, seven ounces. One ounce bigger than James, nine ounces smaller than Miriam. She looks a lot like James did as a newborn, with his same dark hair.
Eventually we went to a postpartum room and our doula set to work getting us what we needed, making up Paul’s bed, organizing our things, and setting up our icons. I brought the mama icons – St. Anna the Mother of the Theotokos and patron saint of mothers, the Theotokos the Nurturer of Life (where she is depicted nursing the infant Christ), and my patron St. Juliana of Lazarevo, who had thirteen children but still lived as an ascetic.
The rest of the morning was spent just resting, nursing the baby, and getting lots of visits from medical personnel. Sometime later that morning, our priest came by with our friend who is his secretary to say the Prayers After Childbirth. My mom drove down that morning to take over watching the kids and brought them by in the afternoon, and they were so excited to meet their sister and very careful and sweet with her. They’ve continued to be totally in love with her and ask to hold her, “‘nuggle” her, and kiss her all day. After one day of insisting her name was Matthew (which he had decided on before birth), James even consented to call her Sophia. We stayed at the hospital for 24 hours, and when we had both passed all our tests with flying colors, we headed home.
Sophia being protected by her knight in shining armor: